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Sisters of flair

Sunday, August 20, 2017
From retail clerk to fashion design entrepreneur
Designers Sheneika and Shanice McDonald paint a new design on fabric. Photo by:RISHI RAGOONATH

Last year, Shanice Mc-Donald was a sales clerk at a popular retail store in San Fernando. This year, the 24-yearold Cocoyea, San Fernando resident is the lead fashion designer at Pulchritude Designs, a design studio owned by her and older sister Shaneika.

When Shanice was a toddler, she would amble around her mother’s work station, stealing bits of cloth which she would take to her collection of dolls to make clothes.

Her mother was a seamstress and Shanice fell in love with making clothes and knew this was exactly what she wanted to do when she grew up.

Shaneika, a bookworm as a child, became a project manager after obtaining a BA in Business Management and a MA in International Management. As a child, however, she would draw clothes and her parents arranged for an illustrator to teach her about sketching.

“Our parents were very supportive of us both,” Shaneika recalled in an interview with the Sunday Guardian.

“They were more focused on guiding us to the things we were naturally attracted to.”

Both parents worked with their hands. Their father was a joiner and between both parents, the young women learnt how to paint, varnish and understand texture and colours.

“From a very young age we learnt that our hands were golden. Our parents would tell us that our hands had the potential to create the type of life we wanted.”

It was advice both girls took seriously.

“My parents saw what we liked and pushed us in those directions.”

The two had a very close relationship to both parents.

When their mother died a few years ago, they were devastated. On the morning of Shanice’s CXC math exam she got news that her mother had died. Her family had buried her grandfather the day before.

“After mommy died Shanice shut down,” Shaneika said.

“She didn’t want to go to school or do anything. My dad and I let her grieve but when we felt enough time had passed, we printed out the form to apply for the fashion design programme at UTT (University of Trinidad and Tobago).”

Shanice started school shortly after.

While it turned out to be a difficult adjustment for a young woman who was unfamiliar with the capital city, she attended classes in Port-of-Spain for the programme, which included a lot of late nights.

“Our proudest moment was when she would come home and we would see her working on her designs,” Shaneika said.

“The best part of the process is having an idea and watching her sketch it and seeing it come to life. We really love what we do.”

The business currently produces fashion lines which have been shown at T&T Fashion Week and other fashion showcases. It creates hand-painted design and original prints and custom designs for individuals.

Shanice sits with the clients and sketches options based on the event or what the clients want.

While the business technically began in 2014, when a photographer rented one of Shanice’s creations for a photo shoot, the work was overwhelming as she was still attending school completing the last year of her degree in fashion design. She put the work on hold and refocused on school. When she was finished, she faced the typical struggle of new graduates in getting employment. After sending her resume to various local fashion designers, she spent months at home waiting on a call.

In 2016, her family encouraged her to get a job. Her family thought it was important for her to develop a work ethic and find employment. When she received no feedback from local designers she applied for and got a job at a popular retail clothing store. The experience lasted for six months, where Shanice said she learnt a lot about retail, and it was during this experience she met her first client.

Her first client referred other clients until she started steadily began doing work, creating clutches at first and then pieces of clothing, while still working at the store.

“One of my friends from church who worked at a local bank asked me if I could design emancipation outfits for a few friends and I said yes, but when I got there, a few friends turned out to be 16 people,” Shanice said.

“I called Shanika and told her how many people were there waiting to be measured and we decided that I should ask for time off.”

But when Shanice asked her employer for time off to complete the designs they were reluctant to guarantee her a job when she returned. She decided then to leave and with her sister, officially started Pulchritude designs. Since then, the sisters said, business has not stopped.

Today, the young women are taking part in fashion shows. They had a showing at TT Fashion week and are working toward creating their own studio.

“We want to be able to create a platform for young designers,” Shaneika said.

Despite finishing degrees, Shanice said a lot of her peers found it difficult to get started once they left school.

“Right now we are building business relationships. We are creating a new line and we work with people who sell cloth, we network with make up artists and boutique designers.”

The designs created by Shanice are all bold colours and statement-making pieces.

Shanice says life inspires her and of course the memory of her mother as well as her interest in architecture.

It is also evident that the sisters have no desire to fit in.

“We have no desire to be black and white with clean lines. That isn’t what the Caribbean is. We are fun and happy and cheerful people. We are a mix of so many cultures, why would we do black and white when we represent the Caribbean?”


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